John Roggee of Pawling NY shows off a nice fall brook trout.
I spent last weekend chasing tails, square tails to be exact. With the end of trout season looming on the near horizon, I wanted to take a few slab sided brookies home to put on the smoker.
As luck would have it, an old friend agreed to join in the fun, and we set off early in the morning darkness.
We had kicked off this year’s trout season on the very same pond, and it treated us quite well. We probably would’ve landed quite a few more fish, if a certain member of the party of two had remembered to bring a net.
There would be no such equipment errors this time around. Net? check. Sinking fly lines and freshly tied custom flies? Check. Other flies, lies, lures and a few believable excuses just in case? Check!
We began the long walk in the morning’s darkness, as the cool air and a flowing stream of adrenaline combined to aid our pace.
We weren’t trying to run, but the urgency of our mission was palpable even though neither of us was willing to voice the thought.
We’ve been on the trail together for over a quarter of a century, words weren’t necessary. We knew what to do.
The headlight beams illuminated the steam of our breathe, in the chill morning air, as we crunched along the leaf-padded track.
For John, this was to be his last hurrah chasing Adirondack brookies, and he approached it like a man on a mission.
His skill had been thoroughly tested earlier in the season, on the same pond we were now returning to.
I knew without even having to ask, what was on his mind. He had lost a true trophy back in May, and he was vengeful, but in a good way.
Despite the fact he regularly gets to play with big bruiser browns on the Delaware, where a day in the drift boat holds the promise of 10 or 12 trophy-sized fish a day; John has a true Adirondack addiction and he can’t seem to shake it.
Over the years we’ve fished together on ponds both large and small. We’ve hiked to, biked over, paddled down, flown-in and rafted through some very interesting and productive waters. Fortunately, we’ve also managed to catch some really nice fish.
Yet, despite the productiveness of them all, there remains just one pond in particular that has managed to cast a spell over us both.
We’d been to the altar before, and we just had to return to show our respect.
When we last fished the pond, back in May of this year, I managed to land a fine, fat specimen of a speckle, with just my bare hand. Of course, I was responsible for forgetting the net.
Other anglers who witnessed our nonsense on the pond that day, were quick to offer a net when John later hooked up with another bruiser.
Three boatloads of spectators assembled to cheer him on, as the fish repeatedly stripped out his line in a series of deep dives and startling runs.
Finally, he managed to bring the big brookie to the side of the boat, and it appeared to be spent.
I urged him to bring it my way, so I could scoop it up; but he would have nothing to do with it.
“You landed yours, now let me do it myself,” he scolded.
“Get your hand under it,” I had coached him then, “And try to flop it in the boat.”
John did as he was told, and soon the big brookie was atop a pack in the middle of our canoe, and his line went limp.
He fumbled with the the rod, as he lurched toward the trout. But it came to life, and with one powerful flap of its wide square tail, the trout launched into the air and into the water.
It was a slow-motion piscatorial performance. As I watched the speckled monster slowly return to the depths of the pond’s clear water, I knew John’s heart was sinking even deeper.
After having experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in less than five minutes of fishing, we decided to pack it in and pack ourselves out. We replayed the incident over and over during our return. There were plenty of I could’ve’s, and you should’ve’s, but the big trout was back in the water, and we were on the way home.
I avoided any talk of the incident during our recent return. We walked in quietly, and didn’t say much beyond the necessary “you grab that” or “I’ll handle this.”
The canoe slid silently into the water, and after we reached the end of the last carry, we were both equally silent. We went about the business of tying on flies and lures as the morning mist began to lift from the still waters.
No directions were necessary. We slid the canoe into the water and stepped off. If the fish were there, they’d be back in the bay, at the far end of the pond, which was still secured by the thick morning fog.
We paddled strong but silently, and the canoe lurched forward with each stroke. In no time, we were there, drifting into the strike zone, waiting and wondering.
“Do you think we’re too late?” I mumbled under my breath. But before he could even respond, the answer came loud an clear.
There was a splash in the distance, and just as the sun began to peak though the trees, there came another.
Soon, there were more, muted somewhat by the sound of a fly line rifling through the still air.
Then it came, the sweet steady zzzzzz-zzzziitt of fly line pealing off the reel.
The seriousness of our business was over in an instant, as a big brookie was brought alongside the canoe and gently slipped into the net.
Quiet returned to the scene momentarily, and then the slaps continued. We were surrounded and we cast to all points of the compass.
Three, four, five fish came to the canoe in rapid succession, and the sun wasn’t yet over the tree line.
Amid much laughter, and the usual good hearted ribbing, John managed to land both the largest and the most trout of the day.
There was no longer any pressure to achieve, it was like a scene from a summer past, that continued to stoke dreams that such days will always last.
Twenty seven years have passed since John and I first set off on the Boquet River with a similar mission in mind.
We did it then and we’ve done it again. Now that it’s over, there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s to get ready for next year. Here we go again!
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.